New-look Cats still purring following win over Cork
Kilkenny 1-22 Cork 2-17
If this is transition then that'll do nicely.
The scoreline shows a two point win in Cork, a good result for anyone but one that flatters the home side. The late flurry that might have seen them snaffle a win wasn't much more than face saving. As Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy said afterwards, his side simply didn't deserve to win.
There were some less familiar faces for Kilkenny but this was a victory based on the same principles that have served Brian Cody's sides so well for so long now. Defensive solidity, aerial dominance and efficiency up front.
Paul Murphy settled into his full-back role comfortably. Paudie O'Sullivan started at full-forward and began brightly but had been called ashore with half an hour still to play. Up front, where they were worst hit by injuries and club duty, Kilkenny hit just five wides over the 70 minutes.
They also managed the trademark power surge. This time it came in the 15 minutes after the break when they outscored the home side by six points to one. When Mark Kelly hit his third point of four to stretch the lead to eight points with 15 to play, it looked like it could get embarrassing for Cork.
To their credit, the Rebels rallied. Two Pat Horgan pointed frees stopped the rot before Cork butchered a chance to put Alan Cadogan clear with some sloppy hand-passing.
The octane levels had lifted now and Anthony Nash denied Kelly in a one-on-one situation before Cork struck for their first goal. Luke O'Farrell got the deftest of touches on Mark Ellis's dropping delivery to breathe new life into Cork's challenge and bring them to within a single score.
This was a test for Kilkenny's less familiar faces and they looked to have thought their way out of trouble when Richie Hogan, who picked up on last season's Hurler of the Year form, and Kelly made it a five-point game.
Cork came again and managed another goal when Conor Lehane was quickest to capitalise on Eoin Murphy's blunder to cut the gap to two. The Rebels managed to create another half chance but O'Farrell blazed his effort wide. Anything other than a Kilkenny win would have been an injustice. Even when Cork were staying in touch in the first half, they were relying on some superb point scoring.
"I think on the overall balance of play we didn't deserve to win," said Barry Murphy. "I don't know. It's something we'll have to look at ourselves. We made too many mistakes. A lot of our players all over the field were beaten too many times to the ball.
"They won breaking ball, they won ball in the air over us and I think from that point of view, they were well deserved winners.
"We lost the third quarter. We didn't play that well in the first half either. We were just hanging in there. I'd just have to look at it again, but you'd have to be very disappointed with our overall display."
Still early days but Cody declared himself pleased with how his side had performed against a near full strength Cork side. The Kilkenny boss made just one change over the 70 minutes and that was enforced when Conor Fogarty was forced off injured and replaced by Geoff Brennan.
"The reality is that all the players who played have been around the panel for quite a while. We talk about our panel more than we talk about our team," said Cody.
"We don't have a team that's cast in stone - the Kilkenny senior team was playing tonight and that's it. There's no such thing as a fella guaranteed to play and the lads played with that kind of realisation, that there's a fierce opportunity there for them. It was a good performance."
Barry Murphy agreed there was no chance Kilkenny's 'transition' would see them go away.
"Anyone looking at the game and anyone who knows anything about the game, would realise they've a great pool of talent in Kilkenny," he said. "They've been very successful at underage level, minor and U21 level.
"All these players have played in Croke Park and have played in the league before. They're not bad players. This myth about them being weaker tonight, well they'd a lot of players missing but it shows now they're always going to be contenders."
So an early-season marker from Kilkenny. Opponents will likely pour over the fact both Cork's goals came from high dropping balls into their full-back line, though Barry Murphy agreed they came about thanks to a large slice of fortune. The Cats move on to Dublin next week.
Cork supporters, however, are suddenly uncomfortable. After the visit of the reigning All-Ireland champions, the 2013 winners come to Pairc Ui Rinn this weekend and Barry Murphy hinted the experiments with Aidan Walsh at wing-back and Cronin at midfield could be scrapped.
"Well I've to look at the game again. I wouldn't be happy with a lot of the players, not just those two players. All over the field I felt a lot of the players didn't play to their potential.
"Every game in this division is very competitive. It's so tight. I mean we were relegated two years ago and we know what it's like to try and survive in this division.
"So from that point of view every game will get tougher from now on."
Man of the Match - R Hogan
SCORERS - Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (8f), C Lehane 1-2, L O'Farrell 1-0, A Cadogan 0-2, S Harnedy, D Kearney, P O'Sullivan, B Cooper 0-1.
Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-11 (7f, 1 '65), M Kelly 0-4, JJ Farrell 1-0, W Walsh 0-3, L Ryan, M Ruth, K Joyce, P Walsh 0-1 each.
Cork - A Nash 7; D Cahalane 6, C Joyce 6, C O'Sullivan 6; A Walsh 6, M Ellis 6, C Murphy 6; D Kearney 7, P Cronin 6; S Harnedy 6, B Cooper 6, C Lehane 7; A Cadogan 7, P O'Sullivan 6, P Horgan 7 Subs: L McLoughlin 6 for Cronin (46), L O'Farrell 7 for O'Sullivan, C McCarthy 6 for Cooper (both 49), S O'Neill 6 for Cahalane (58), S Moylan for Cadogan (66).
Kilkenny: E Murphy 6; T Keogh 6, P Murphy 7, J Tyrrell 7; B Kennedy 7, K Joyce 7, C Buckley 7; C Fogarty 6, L Ryan 7; P Walsh 7, W Walsh 8, M Ruth 7; M Kelly 8, JJ Farrell 7, R Hogan 8 Subs: G Brennan 7 for Fogarty (16).
Ref - J Owens (Wexford).